Letting Go of Gold: Examining the Role of Autonomy in Elite Athletes’ Disengagement from Their Athletic Careers and Well-Being in Retirement

in Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology
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Retirement from competitive sports significantly influences former athletes’ well-being. We propose that disengaging from the former athletic career is a crucial factor in retired athletes’ adaptation. Using the theoretical framework of Self-Determination Theory (SDT) we propose that sport motivation at the career peak and motivation for retirement are important determinants of athletes’ disengagement progress from a terminated athletic career. We also seek to examine how motivation for retirement and disengagement progress predict retired athletes’ well-being. Using a mixed-retrospective/prospective longitudinal design we followed 158 government-supported elite athletes who had recently retired from an athletic career. In two online surveys administered 1.5 years apart, retired athletes reported on motivation, disengagement, and well-being. Results suggested that SDT motivation factors are important predictors for elite athletes career disengagement and well-being in retirement. The clinical implications of these findings for athletic career transition and support programs are discussed.

Holding, Fortin, Hope, and Koestner are with the Dept. of Psychology, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Carpentier is with the Dept. of Management and Human Resources, Université du Québec à Montréal, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Hope is also with the Dept. of Psychology, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Address author correspondence to Anne Holding at anne.holding@mail.mcgill.ca.
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